The Importance of Having a Thick Skin

Recently SEOmoz has had the pleasure of being caught in several bloggers’ scopes because of the controversy behind Rand’s Google Payola post. While much of the criticism was largely professional and constructive, some of it has been more personal and not constructive. Regardless of the type of criticism, it’s essential to react to it appropriately, especially when the Internet is essentially your workplace.

Before I delve further, let me be the first one to admit that I am a stubborn person (thanks, Kelley genes), and I’ve had my feathers ruffled a few times online. It can be difficult to respond to professionally to criticism, whether it’s constructive or a personal attack. In light of recent events, however, I’ve thought a lot about how to “temper your hubris,” as Rand often puts it, and handle the occasional negative or disagreeing remark thrown your way.

Let’s face it, a huge appeal of the Internet is its seductive anonymity (Rand had a recent Whiteboard Friday about a similar topic). You can say things to someone you wouldn’t dream of uttering in person because you’re hiding behind the warm, soft glow of your monitor. Keep this in mind when you get your feelings hurt and are furiously typing a scathing responsewould you say what you’re about to type to that person face-to-face? If so, more power to ya because you’ve got quite the pair on you. If not, it might be a good idea to tone it down a bit and write a response you’d actually give in person. Lots of people avoid unnecessary conflict in person because it’s uncomfortablekeep that in mind when you’re addressing it online. Don’t exacerbate the matter or add fuel the fire if it’s unwarranted.

Someone (I forgot who, so if it was you then let me know and I can credit you) pointed me to this great writeup about how to handle criticism on the web. I recommend giving it a read. One sentence in particular stuck out to me: “The more viewers your work has, the more likely you’ll be to encounter a completely unreasonable opinion.” Indeed, the longer I’ve worked at SEOmoz, the more criticism and backlash I’ve seen directed at both me and the company. When we were the underdog we got a lot more polite encouragement. As SEOmoz became more visible and a rising authority in the industry, more and more people began to scrutinize and criticize our business decisions and blog posts. From a personal standpoint, it is pretty surprising to go from reading comments about how I’m a great addition to SEOmoz to hearing people scoff that I “don’t know anything about SEO.” But, I understand that the more visible you become, the more attention (both good and bad) you get (here is a nifty graph for you visual learners). What matters is how you react to the attention.

The important thing to remember is to not take criticism personally. Remember that constructive criticism, though it may hurt, is meant to help you, whether to be a better person, run a better business, implement a better business strategy, etc. Personal attacks are juvenile and are meant to hurt you, so don’t give those people the satisfaction of knowing they got to you and upset you. Don’t dismiss criticism, howeverignoring constructive criticism ensures you’ll make the same mistakes over and over again and run the risk of alienating those who are trying to help you, while you can take negative criticism and decide to avoid or not to do business with the offenders.

In my opinion, if you have any sort of visibility online and are sensitive to everything negative you read about you, you won’t last long in that role. Though it may sting, if you’re looking to have a positive brand and be successful on the Internet, it’s a good idea to remember when to swallow your pride and thicken up your skin.

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